Coaching is all about relationships. As a literacy coach, there are multiple things I do to ensure coaching in the classroom is a positive learning experience for all:
- Be a good listener. I really listen to what teachers say they want and need in the classroom and ensure that their voices are heard.
- Follow the teacher’s lead. While we may have ideas for our coaching, I follow the teacher’s lead and start there. Additional initial ideas can come later in the coaching process when the teacher is ready for them.
- Be trustworthy. I maintain the teacher’s confidentiality at all times. I jokingly tell the teachers I work with that our coaching space is like Vegas: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Teachers need to know they can trust you.
- Seek out strengths. Find positives in any situation and build on them. Just as we encourage teachers to avoid taking a deficit view when looking at student data, we should have them do the same for themselves. Focus on what is right first and then choose goals together.
- Celebrate growth. Big changes in instruction do not happen overnight. I celebrate the small steps of growth seen in the classroom and view them as momentum for larger changes ahead. Every journey starts with one step forward.
These actions to build strong coaching relationships are easily replicated online and virtually, but it is more challenging to build a comfortable, collegial relationship with someone that you will never meet in person. I have found a few coaching moves go a long way in building trusting relationships to support coaching:
- Get personal immediately. I give the teachers I work with a glimpse into my life right from the first introductory email. Sure, I tell teachers who I am and what I do, but I also give them snippets of information about my family, my favorites and my quirks. This helps them get to know me as a person, not just as a coach, and opens the lines of communication. If we cannot easily share conversations and low-risk personal information, how will we ever get comfortable enough to share our classroom lives and teaching?
- Find multiple channels of communication. While virtual coaching visits might be your primary method of communication, find additional channels to make brief, but consistent, contact with your teachers. This could be through email or even through social media. If you are on Twitter, create Twitter lists of the schools and teachers you work with to quickly connect or send resources and ideas they might appreciate. You might even connect as readers on Goodreads and share titles with each other. By connecting more often, you are sure to build more consistent and complete relationships with teachers.
- Create spaces for digital sharing. When you are physically part of a school building, it is easier to share ideas and resources with teachers: at grade level meetings, in the faculty lounge even in the hallway. This sharing is easy to replicate online with Padlet and Flipgrid. Create Padlet walls that you can share with your teachers as if you were in the building. You might create a Padlet wall to share fantastic titles for read alouds or mentors texts. You might create a Flipgrid page for teachers to share ideas and reflections, ask questions, share a celebration or simply drop in to say hello in-between virtual visits.
- Don’t forget about old-fashioned communication too. One of my favorite things to do as a coach is to notice and name the fantastic things are teachers are doing and to give them bits of encouragement and self-care to fuel their teaching spirits. In person, I like to leave sticky notes on their desks or doors and even gift them small things I know they’ll appreciate: a new book for their library, a velvety gel pen or a simple hand-written ‘thank-you-for-being-you’ note of appreciation. While it may take an additional stamp or two, sending these old-fashioned tokens of appreciation are sure to surprise teachers and warm their hearts.
By taking the time to build strong instructional relationships, you’ll ensure a more successful coaching partnership. While we may never meet in the person, the bonds formed virtually can be just as strong as those in person.